Sunday, May 24, 2020

Why It's Better To Share, Instead of Borrow

Late last year I was scrolling through my Hulu queue and saw the below:


Holy shit! Is it my birthday? I thought. Guy Pearce is my jam! So of course I embarked on a binge of this very short miniseries. (3 episodes, 3 hours)

I was impressed. Before I tell you why, consider the following.

Every so-and-so has done the Christmas Carol story before. Despite the story being of English origin and set in the very specific context of industrialized England, somehow Americans has also been hooked. This is likely due to the biblical overtones of the story. The three ghosts can loosely represent Christocentric ideas like the Trinity or the three days Jesus spent in the tomb after his crucifixion. The story of redemption, of forcing a man to repent for his sins and receive salvation. The lessons taught about generosity, grace, and the worship of material wealth. Even Scrooge's first name, "Ebenezer," is derived from the Hebrew word "ebhen hā-ʽezer" (literally "stone of help"), to symbolize the divine assistance Scrooge receives from the spirits, as well as the heart of stone Scrooge possess until his redemption. It's all there and easily received by a population that is loosely familiar with biblical verbiage.

The story is so ubiquitous (over here, "across the pond") that I grew up on several iterations of Dicken's work including, but not limited to, Mickey's Christmas Carol, The Muppet Christmas Carol, Scrooged, and A Christmas Carol, featuring George C. Scott (1984). (While jogging my memory, I discovered a version with Patrick Stewart!? What have I been doing with my life?) And, even if some of these versions are unfamiliar, it's likely that at least one of these has made it into your life at some point.

I actually liked Scrooged the best growing up, seeing it as some kind of Ghostbusters spin-off.

So, yes, I was very impressed with the recent version put on my FX. The expanded format allowed for a greater level of narrative depth in areas previously unexplored, such as the politics of the afterlife and the hellish bells that toll there. There is also motivation on Marley to move Scrooge to repentance. For, if Marley fails, he will be cast into an unrelenting purgatory. The #metoo movement is invoked when Scrooge forces Mrs. Cratchit to undress in front of him so that she can take out a loan for live-saving surgery for her son Tim. The spendthrift policies of industrialized Britain and the deadly cost of unbridled capitalism are as relevant today as it was then (corporate loopholes, poor working conditions, the wage gap, the working poor, unaccountable executive, etc.). There is even a scene depicting the rationing of coal, where Cratchit is, absurdly, charged for having additional coals provided to his stove in Scrooge's office. Each of these details cement the viewer in the time period and add layers of complexity to the story that has too often been sanitized by an over-emphasis on joyful climax. (Yes, Scrooge is redeemed. But that doesn't negate the pain and neglect he caused, or the inevitable restitution implied by his change of heart.)

But why write about this in the summer? Why is this important?

I actually was hooked by a line read by Pearce in the show, and I knew that I would want to write about it eventually, but never had the time to do so. Specifically, Pearce states the following:
"A gift is but a debt, unwritten but implied."
This idea got my attention, as I languished on my mom's couch last Christmas. Specifically, I had bought my brother a 3D printer, which I wanted to give as both a celebration of his personal industry and the accommodations he made for me while we visited our father in Hawaii. It was quite an expense, something only made possible by money recently bequeathed to me from my late grandmother, but it was worth it. The above quote seemed to explain something behind the materialistic motivations inherent in gift giving. Though my brother was none-the-wiser, there was some part of me that that sought recompense.

Guy Pearce as Scrooge.
(This is all the shit that goes through my head when I write about something. After all these paragraphs, now I begin the actual article.)

I've always been fascinated by the interaction of words, specifically when people use different terms interchangeably. The language behind share and borrow is markedly different, despite their everyday use as equivalents. Both terms invoke the collaborative ownership of something (wealth, property, resources, etc). Both are primarily positive in connotation. Where the terms part ways involved the object of the sharing or borrowing, In the latter case, borrowing implies that resources gained are returned. Sharing implies extended or perpetual ownership. I would not be the first person to write about the implications behind gift giving. But what I seem to get stuck on is the liquidity of the terms.

Sharing reminds me of the early Christian Church. In the Book of Acts 2:42-47 we read the following:

42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

The only reason I bring the bible in to this, is because Americans typically leverage biblical language, the language of A Christmas Carol, while championing the acquisition of wealth, equating divine favor and moral excellence to those who were most adept. But, clearly, in the bible we see a different idea taking place: the sharing of resources for the betterment of the collective. This is essentially a prototype of communism, where members of the community own the "means of production."

Oldie, but a goodie.

Scrooge's statement, where a gift demands reciprocity in some form, brings an argument against charity, that in giving there is an implicit motive to justify one's self. Or, we simply give to feel congratulated and compensate for a moral failing that looms over our consciousness. The moral of A Christmas Carol promotes the idea of selfless giving, specifically grace.

Borrowing, as a concept at least, implies temporary ownership. It is active on the part of the supplicant, passive on the part of the provider. One goes to an institution and asks for a resource and is given that resource, with the understanding that this resource will be repaid in some capacity over time. Obviously this practice is monetized to favor the institution. Some form of additional reciprocity is sought to justify the initial lending. This is typically done with charging interest, where a percent of the total money left to be repaid is charged in addition to the principal. I'm laboring on the minutiae of this to prove a point: of the two terms, only borrowing is inherently predatory.

When we share our resources, we are committing to mutual prosperity and strength. A community, even on the fringe, will survive indefinitely when operating under the concept of sharing resources. Likewise, when someone buys "shares" in a company, they are participating in a group effort to see something come into being. Sharing, in my mind, aligns with the concept of grace; that is, unmerited favor. Grace is a gift. There is no implied debt or language hinting at future reimbursement. It flies in the very face of modern theories like laissez-faire capitalism, where economies are advanced on the basis of self-interest and competition over limited resources. This is incompatible with the Gospel and the concept of sharing. But, even Christians seem consigned to rationalize the use of free market capitalism as a means to an end, or a necessary evil that we must all endure for the sake of general order. Verily, Jesus never said, "Blessed are the poor, that is, unless they deserve to be poor because they collect food stamps, make bad decisions, and are addicted to meth." Sharing involves two active participants, and, rather than the supplicant approaching the provider, it is the provider that approaches the supplicant.

There are several iterations of this comic that have popped up on the internet in the past few years. But all seem to point out the incongruity between the worship of market freedom over the livelihood of average workers.

At the end of the day, the nuance of this argument can be obfuscated by quick tempers and personal narratives. Objectivity flies out of the window and we typically keep to our camps, where the firelight is warm, comforting, and calming. Rarely are we forced to venture beyond the borders and confront the wilderness. That would require bravery, after all. I know that my philosophy is influenced by the teachings of Jesus, which some may find hostile for tertiary reasons. If you, reader, are not a fan of the whole Christianity thing, then consider something like the Utopian future of Star Trek, embodied by the fictional organization known as the United Federation of Planets. In this speculative timeline, resources are shared within the federation. Though there is money exchanged between the Federation and other species (ie, the Ferengi, who covet "gold plated Latinum"), the act of doing so is implicitly denigrating to both parties. And, though it seems absurd to live life based on fictional principals, just because it's not real doesn't mean it can't have an impact on how experience the world and interact with it. (In my case, I believe Jesus is reality, which I would call a "win" in my book.)

Anyways, that's what's been on my mind the past few weeks.

In other news, I finished my 3rd book this weekend. I am beyond excited to share the details with you as the book enters the design process!

#TheWorkingAuthor

Sunday, May 3, 2020

The "Meh"-of-All-Trades

I have this tendency to be good at things, but not great. It sounds like a brag, but it's the source of a lot of turmoil in my life.

Typically, the starting age for a professional [_____] is young, like too young. Usually it's a gymnast that is worked so hard at 15 that she doesn't get her period until she's in her 20s, or its a 8 year old kid who's father sneaks protein power into his breakfast cereal so he can hit the gym and get "swole." And then there's people like me who are average, with hobbies, dreams, and simple acquisitions.

Growing up I played sports, like, all the sports. I played soccer (field and arena), football (flag and tackle), basketball, baseball, and track and field (discus, shot put, 200 meter, and 100 meter). I never truly found my stride in any of them. The truth is you have to keep at something long enough to get good, appreciate the "rules," learn the minutiae of whatever it is that you do. Certain trade skills, after so long, become apparent. (Like sanding wood at different grit sandpaper, or playing baseball with performance enhancing drugs.) Actually, the only consistent experience I had with sports was the unrelenting day dreaming. I remember vividly knocking home run hits into the stratosphere and breaking the sound barrier on the 100 meter. You know, typical sport stuff. 

While all this was going on, there was guitar.

I used to air guitar, a lot. Like too much. I would pretend to be Angus Young and Bon Scott from ACDC and jump all over my room. I had this vision in my head of bending notes and melting faces. The moment I started playing acoustic guitar, I was looking at Angus and thinking, "Yeah, I want to do that."

So I kept playing, despite the hurdles and frustrations. But, while I was playing, I started to write.

I wrote my first "book" when I was in 6th grade. It was awful and done in conjunction with a writing assignment on ancient Greece for my humanities class. In 7th grade, I wrote another one. It was a steaming heap o' shit. This one was different though. I made a title page, table of contents. I printed the entire thing out on a Packard Bell inkjet printer, in color! Between the end of 8th grade and beginning of 9th grade, I continued this trend and wrote a serialized novel that I ultimately never finished. Every weekend I would post a chapter on DeviantArt using a title card I made out of clip art and papyrus in MS Paint.

But I stopped. I don't remember why.

I often pick up things and explore them with great intensity. These can be music genres, hobbies, routines, TV shows, books, etc. But the consistent experience I have always begins with a dream of meteoric greatness, followed by a sobering defeat at the hands of reality. I remember collaborating with a group of friends in 7th grade to create a team of highly sophisticated androids to serve the world and wield their awesome destructive power. I drew up sketches of the machines, told my friends to take science and math courses to beef up their mad scientist game, and I even drew the schematics for our compound where we would all live together when all was said and done. I wish I could go back and ask myself why I wanted this so bad. What was the end goal? Even at the peak of my wretched peer group failures in middle school and high school, the thought of blowing things up with these androids never crossed my mind. The fantasy was enough of a justification on its own.

Throughout my life up to this point, writing has meshed with everything I pursued. In college, I was cranking out papers, getting As in my English classes. In my final quarter, I wrote an novella that would eventually become Spirit of Orn for my science fiction class. After coming home from Santa Barbara, I volunteered for an academic journal that promoted comic books and pop-culture as high art. Yet, while I worked for Apple Retail I began laying out a three part novel that I am planning on starting after my current book is complete. 

The only thing I know, with certainty, is that I love to tell stories. And I think, in the same way that Umberto Eco tries to communicate the nuances of semiotics in his popular fiction, I also have a love for my subject and attempt to embed myself in the work to make it more real. When I started Spirit of Orn, I learned Norwegian, read about paganism (old and new), researched the Sognefjord language of Nynorske. I even went to Norway to see with my own eyes the lay of the land. (It was such a beautiful place too.) All this to say, I wanted to communicate the story I envisioned and went to great lengths to render it.

Writing gathers up odd things and meshes it all together, is what I'm saying. The act of creating a story instigates in me a discipline of research. I end up learning a lot about things, without ever mastering any topic in particular. To master the art of writing then (if such a thing can be done) is to be well rounded and willing to participate. One must become the "Meh-of-All-Trades." And this gives me hope, believe it or not. 

     






Sunday, April 12, 2020

The Weary Political Manifesto

This last pay period I worked 12.5 hours of overtime. It was something else. The degree of sheer exhaustion I can't even begin to quantify, especially when you combine that scenario with 1) working from home 2) no gym access 3) raising a 3 year old. Sure, the second one doesn't sound like a big deal, but it's the release valve of my life for all the pent-up stress and energy stored up in my body.

Of course there's a silver-lining: the cost of daycare went down quite a bit. The emergency fund will get a much needed boost.

There's a lot of media going around these days, mostly bad. It's just another thing to look at. Just another screen. A call with a friend yesterday though was able to put my mind at ease. It was probably the Holy Spirit, or just talking to another person. Likely, some mixture of both. Indeed, talking about something that ISN'T a deadly virus is novel and refreshing. One thing we talked about resonated in my weary, thirsty heart, which was the preoccupation with partisanship and how misleading it is. Obviously, I've shared before that I'm a left leaning centrist. But this talk isn't about who you, reader, should vote for, but about why the previous sentence is such a problem.

What purpose is there to say "I am," as if we have to right to define who we are, excised from the context of society? Two-thirds of the global population emphasizes (for better or worse) group membership over individual rights. Western societies are desperate for meaning and value, or some guiding principal that elevates the drudgery of day-to-day minutiae to a transcending super-context. Brand and influence, among many other things, guide our purchases in the free market. Do we wear Adidas? Do we play Gibson guitars? Do we wear Banana Republic? Is the product we put in our hair Paul Mitchell? And even if we purchased our clothing second hand from thrift stores or flea markets, the posturing, pretentiousness of wearing unbranded clothing is just as evil as buying Chanel. The working poor buy the table scraps of the rich to look presentable for job interviews and we have the gall to call it bohemian? But... I'm ranting.

No, the point that I'm trying to make is that we all are members of some defining super-context while pretending to be mavericks.

I think the preoccupation with politics of all varieties is distracting us from what is really important. Group membership and individual purpose feed off each other in great ways, though, when looking at my Facebook feed, the worst of both is being feed into each other like a feedback loop. What I see in my feed are the proud participants in a movement with no general impetus to action. Are constituents advancing the kinds of social justice preached by Bernie Sanders by becoming inner city teachers, or donating to their local food shelter, or participating in local town hall meetings to make certain that the poor aren't being priced out of their apartments? Are Christian Republicans advocating for the widows and orphans, stamping out institutionalized racism, or identifying and stopping hate speech and xenophobia? Even worse, are we all becoming arm chair philosophers, content to espousing what we believe, without any practical means to implement the change we so desperately want to make?

To all the Christians in the room, here's where shit gets real, really fast.

(Before I start, let me say that no one is innocent of this, myself included. But admitting we have a problem is always the first step on the road to spiritual recovery.)

I think it's easier for us to mesh Christianity with something other than the framing principals of the Kingdom of God. This makes it easier, right? We can say that Jesus was a democratic socialist, and then source our practices from news articles and academic journals. The framing context of Jesus is lost in the present zeitgeist, and then Jesus just becomes another branding icon. Things like the Cross become jewelry and the Book of Ecclesiastes a guide to smart real estate investment. We must remember that Jesus was/is a person, an individual. He wasn't a philosophy or a lifestyle or a populist movement.

The different demographics of 1st century Palestine listed in the New Testament weren't just fraternities or mystery cults, they were political parties, with real weight and power. Jesus wasn't a member of any of them, but instead spoke about his "kingdom" where everything was upside-down. And to be a member of this faction of Judaism was to refuse the norms of every competing worldview and philosophy. So this preoccupation today with certain factions and political theories, regardless of where one lies on the spectrum, is excluding Jesus from the picture. Sure, I can be a follower of Christ that practices the values of the current Kingdom of Heaven and vote and participate in a political society. But I can't be a democratic socialist, republican, centrist, anarchist, democrat, or libertarian that goes to church and reads the bible, and participates in community. In the former example, truth proceeds from Christ. In the latter, truth proceeds from the political party, dictating the praxis in which Christianity is contextualized and put to work. So I think the frustration that we all feel, the lack of fulfillment in partisan discourse, comes from the lack of value and fulfillment we receive when our true god is Rush Limbaugh or Arianna Huffington, Fender or Gibson, Coke or Pepsi, MSNBC or Fox News, and not Jesus Christ.

Obviously, if you are reading this and are not a Christian, the whole previous paragraph is moot. But, having an awareness that not all civilizations, societies, groups, and philosophies are perfect, allows breathing room to admit flaw and culpability. Don't you worry about what Christians think. It doesn't matter what we think, because we are all crazy, right? It is more realistic to believe that we are fallible, and the progression of humanism motivates us to accept blame and proceed with caution, right? We can just be that one group that believes that we are right, that everyone is wrong, but are proceeding out of a metaphysical system that, at its core, preaches love and forgiveness.

Therefore, in light of the words above, for ease of mind and calmness, accept the fallibility of your philosophy. Accept the peace of knowing that the change you want, is the change you can make your damned self, without the congratulatory approval of others.

I'm out.

PS: Sorry for such a delay since the previous post. Rest assured, I'm working on the book and it's gonna' be great!

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Abortion: (A.K.A.) That Thing We Don't Like to Talk About

At UCSB I took Classics 120 with Professor Athanassakis in 2009, and it was a terrific class. Like most of my required reading books I purchased throughout my undergraduate, I kept the course reader, which was a collection of poetry and prose from a variety of sources. All of it very fascinating and very interesting. The takeaway I had was, primarily that the Romans were "like, totally, just like us." And then I remembered that we used to know how to make quick dry cement 2200 years ago. So, yeah, the Romans were pretty rad, as far as the alternatives were concerned.

Something that stuck with me was one section on Abortion, selected from Jo-Ann Shelton's As the Romans Did, which she sources from Soranus' work Gynecology 1.64. 1-2 and 1.65. 1-7:

"In order to dislodge the embryo, the woman should take strenuous walks and be shaken up by draft animals. She should also make violent leaps in the air and lift objects which are too heavy for her [...] If this is ineffective, she should be placed in a mixture, which has been boiled and purified, of linseed, fenugreek, mallow, marsh-mallow, and wormwood. She should use poultices of the same substances and be treated with infusions of of olive oil, alone or mixed with rue, honey, iris, or wormwood [...]

A woman who intends to have an abortion must, for two  or three days beforehand, take long baths and eat little food. She is then bled, and a large quantity of blood removed from her [...] After the bleeding, she must be shaken up by draft animals."

The section continues for another paragraph focusing on the things one SHOULD NOT do to instigate a miscarriage.

The only reason why I bring this up so randomly is because I was watching Michelle Wolf's newest standup on Netflix (which was amazing) and one of her bits was about her experience getting an abortion, and the general apathy / antipathy that women experience when getting the procedure done. Obviously, when Roe v. Wade passed in the early 70s, the days when women would get back alley abortions was, at that time considered, hopefully over with. (I don't know if this was truly the case, or if it took a few years of general developments for the service to become widely accessible.) But one can assume that the procedure, before the landmark legislation was passed, was likely dangerous and unregulated, or improvised with varying degrees of risk to the mother.

The Reader in Question
Given that Soranus was a physician living in the 1st century, writing about abortion, it would be reasonable to say that getting an abortion, legal or not, is nothing new. In fact, this document indicates that its as old as Western Civilization, if not older (if we look at the Ancient Near East). And this reality is something that I often confront when I think about the "normalizing" of abortion and the upheaval it has echoed throughout history.

Excerpt A
Excerpt B
If I had to go with a moniker that would, unfortunately, carry the weight of tremendously unwanted baggage, I would have to say that I'm "Pro-Life." At the same time, were my wife pregnant with a life threatening pregnancy complication, I would very reluctantly choose to abort the fetus. (Obviously, my wife would be the final authority on the matter, but that goes without saying.) The saving grace of Roe v. Wade, is that, in the event of the above, my wife and I at least have the option, to avoid the horrendous outcome of a fatal pregnancy. For everyone else, it means not having to undergo some form of underworld surgery that isn't regulated or controlled by a board of medical directors. If history can teach us anything, abortions will continue to be practiced regardless of the legality of it, and it is reason why Roe v. Wade SHOULD NOT, be thrown out.

Legality and use cases aside, I've never liked the idea of abortion because its a morally ambiguous position. I would never vote against Roe v. Wade under controlled conditions, but the fact that so many, male and female, talk about it with flippancy is unmistakably horrifying, especially when considering the existential ramifications of the procedure. This is because the decision ultimately is decided based on a value assessment of the fetus. Were I to kick a woman in the stomach, instigating a miscarriage, whether or not I serve a life sentence for murder depends on the viewpoint of the one who is pregnant. (ie. If she had paid me to do it or if I did it out of malice/aversion of being a father.) In the thought experiment, the child is the controlled variable, the independent variable is the binary choice of abortion vs non-abortion, and the dependent variable is the perceived moral outcome. Why is that? The child's value is relative to the caregiver in either scenario. And let me be absolutely clear: I'm not even, remotely, suggesting that a woman should be shamed for having an abortion. Do not put those words in my mouth, please. What I am struggling with here is the philosophical situation at hand where one life is of depreciated value, based not on medical complications or tragedy of circumstance, but based on whether or not the child will place an imposition on the caregiver's emotional, financial, social, or occupational livelihood. Granted there are outlier incidents like rape or incest that do make up a minuscule percentage of the sum total of abortions accounted (1% and .05% respectively according to the Guttmacher Institute, a strictly non-partisan research group that studies sexual/reproductive health and was founded by a former president of Planned Parenthood), but I am focusing on the vast majority of other instances.

There are common objections to my previous points, but the main one that I hear, one that seems to cast a shadow of influence over all, is the idea that an embryo, regardless of developmental state, is simply "just a bunch of cells." The fallacy of that argument lies in the reality that everything is "just a bunch of cells." Killing a grown adult, child, or elderly human specimen, is morally repugnant in most cases. Killing a grown adult, child, or elderly human specimen,because their existence places a emotional, financial, social, or occupational burden would be exponentially worse. I would argue that this utilitarian approach to placing value on life begets other odd conclusions, such as devaluing the autonomy and rights of animals, as well as hyperbolic solutions to "solving the homeless problem." In each case the subject of these debates are "just a bunch of cells." So this leads me to conclude that these value assessments are made on the immediate state of the organism, and not, simply, what the organism could be at a later point in time. This doesn't sit well with me because any formal consensus on the matter would lead to rippling effects. For instance, is the purpose of criminal justice to "punish" inmates for an offense, or is the purpose of criminal justice to "rehabilitate" them? The former makes a value assessment on the immediate individual, without any thought taken to modify the behavior against future offenses. The latter does not consider the immediate individual, but considers the potential individual, and takes steps to transition one to the next.

There are other ideas at play here bigger than me, obviously. So many so, that I could not begin to address them without writing a book. I intentionally did not evoke religion in this assessment because individual values may not subscribe to the authority of scripture. (Which is fine.)

My argument for life in potentia can be subverted in a variety of ways. Some may say that life is not only based on value assessment but also general consensus. (Life based on consensus values the viewpoint of the group however, not the individual.) Others may argue that reproductive rights proceed from earlier movements in gender equality and women's suffrage. But, at the end of the day, opinions are like assholes. Everyone has one, and they usually stink. I can accept that the viewpoint I have cultivated over my general life experience may not suit everyone. I can even state that, according to my theological presuppositions, I firmly believe that every aborted fetus is predestined to spend an eternity with God the Father, because it would go against everything I have read in scripture to say otherwise. Like any debate, however, nuance is often lost against monolithic ideas. I would just ask of anyone to consider the extent of the argument and exercise the ecumenical due diligence.

Peace and Love, bitches.


Saturday, February 8, 2020

The Top Lists

Hey-ho-let’s-go talk about something a little lighter. Ranking systems, contrived or rooted in reality, have always captured my attention with such vigor that I often find myself arrested by them. It’s cathartic, discovering what is—and is not—worthy of our affections. A crystalline high like no other. (Maybe it’s similar to the effects of public shaming, or social outrage, knowing that the world’s fattest man was ousted by some young upstart from Wisconsin?)

Even though it's slightly delayed, I wanted to feel out the things that moved me in 2019. So the following categories summate my spurious attempt to do so. (Does anyone else alliterate when they’ve had a couple of beers?)

YouTube Channel



YouTube has evolved so much that I scarcely remember what it was before. But what it is now is a wide array of DIY cable networks, where the things you actually like are all prepared and ready to be viewed at any time, any place. This year, while videogamedunkey and Easy Allies have vied for my affections, I somehow have come to love TysyTube Restoration. Tysy, who I suspect is from Switzerland—his pieces are demonstrably European, varying between French, German, Spanish, and Italian—finds derelict baubles and proceeds to renew them with practical equipment that I’ve known my whole life. Much like the surgical videos that cater to cathartic eruptions emanating from pustule-ridden human tissue, there is an inherent relaxation that accompanies Tysy’s exhaustive and meticulous excise of wretched decay from inauspicious relics of the past. (Ooof! This is a strong beer!) I think there is an eternal sediment that awaits to be shaken from our lives. We all yearn for it. We all seem to be guided toward this principal that we are in need of cleansing and purification. Tysy’s renewal, then, must be tapping into a reservoir far more primal than cat videos and pirated broadcasts of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.

Book

What a difficult thing to quantify: books and their recreational appeasement. I have read The Mysterious Flame of Queen Lorana, The Island of the Day Before, Numero Zero, A Once Crowded Sky, and just began reading Baudolino. There have been comic books as well. There always is. But the act of reading a book always—to me at least—becomes a comprehensive investment. Even though I haven’t finished it yet, I find myself just enthralled with Baudolino, which narrates the exploits of the eponymous main character through a very playful adventure of wit and deliberate candor. As always, the story qualifies as “historical fiction,” given the breadth of detail given to reconstructing the 13th century milieu of continental Europe. Umberto Eco, author of all the above (except A Once Crowded Sky), wields a level of interdisciplinary competence that I have not yet encountered in any living person, other than N.T. Wright. His stories are exhaustive and precise. Every detail is intentional. Not only are they entertaining, they are informative and critical of society and historical movements that predominated each era of Western Civilization. Much like Paul Gilbert (a virtuoso guitarist), Eco very much conveys his love for his subject, and his unrelenting desire to communicate the way he feels through his work.


Album



The Similitude of a Dream kept me above water for the later half of 2019 in a way that I had never thought possible. Especially because most Christian music is terrible, filled with bad theology, and songs that lack the emotional honesty suited to the average human being. Neal Morse is well known in the progressive rock community as a singer and songwriter, and adept at cultivating a community of session and touring musicians. And despite the fact that he unabashedly writes christian worship music, musicians from all philosophical dispositions love collaborating with him. Mike Portnoy, who left Dream Theater in 2010, once said that he equates Neal Morse to Paul McCartney in song writing ability. Personally, I feel, Morse lends an artistic credibility to christian music (compositions and lyrics) that have not been (in my opinion) demonstrated since the Enlightenment. The Similitude itself is a double album, within a larger double album (Bro...), based on John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. Like most progressive rock albums, there is a story that spans the entire work, chronicling the tumultuous life of a man seeking God in the real world. The album is all over the place emotionally, and seems to touch all the parts of life that we, as people, encounter on a daily basis. Incidentally, it's one of those albums that I wish I had in my early christian years. Broken Sky, to put it bluntly, saved my life.

Friend



It's Desmond. (Who the fuck did you expect?)

Instrument

2019 was one of those years where, after a decade of not playing music on a regular basis, I wanted to make my glorious return. When I was in college, I was the lucky recipient of a cash prize from abstaining from alcohol until I was of legal age, which I used to buy a guitar, custom built to my specifications. I immersed myself in the speculative guitar making community, researching the different tonal aspects of wood and why they are used. Guitar pickups were another abyss I had to wade through, listening to different sound samples from guitars of similar build materials. After this rock-polishing, tumultuous journey, I received the guitar which had been damaged in shipping and I had to wait an additional 6 months before it was repaired. After putting an additional $1000 into the instrument, I was 30 years old and feeling completely shitty about my adventure in guitar gear.

However, last year, I finally got the genuine item (used): the Ernie Ball Music Man John Petrucci signature guitar. And, in one, year I went through more strings than I have in almost ten years.



I have a really ugly guitar face...

...

I'd like to do this more often and I'm hoping to actually get a more formal list coming soon for each new year. I hope I was able to make you laugh, ponder, and muse.

~Happy New Year!


Saturday, January 25, 2020

New Decade New Me

With the hustle and bustle of the holidays I found myself without time or the focus to write or work on anything other than my book. This year I spent a Christmas apart from my family out of necessity to save my marriage, though, in truth, the reality was a little less hyperbolic. This holiday season, I made some interesting discoveries, changed some vital behaviors, learned that I was suffering under some kind of banal alcoholism, all—it would seem—in preparation for the decade ahead of 2020.
               
Much to my chagrin, my unprofessional dispositions at work have led to the reality of being held back (yet again) in life from joining my contemporaries in the sun. My arrogance, like some Aesop fable, has prompted me to very painfully come to terms with where my career is going and how I should continue. It fucking sucks and it makes me so depressed.
    
Silver linings... At least I have a new desk.
Where to go from here then? That’s the question, isn’t it? I have vacillated on the possibility of either quitting my job or reducing my hours to part time to pursue—more aggressively at least—my writing career once Eowyn starts kindergarten. Joining local writing groups. Being more active in my peer community. Submitting stories to journals. Crowdsourcing for insight and strategies that I could not otherwise formulate on my own… I could go on. But I struggle with whether or not this is a selfish thing. Being a Youtube star, or a writer that couch surfs from apartment to apartment, takes no particular brand of courage when there’s nothing to lose. (And I don’t mean to intimate this as something particularly disparaging to those in my circle of friends that have done this/continue to do this successfully.) But when there’s a family involved, when your child is depending on you for a good life, the picture becomes hopelessly muddy. Can one be virtuous these days, while still being “dangerous”? Something to pray on, then.

Busy at work...
               
I’ve wanted to produce another “Little Bits” post, but I keep forgetting to record my momentary sparks of “genius” when they are prompted by some cursory observation or thought. Similarly, an opportunity arises every so often to write a short story, but these moments always come when I am pressed up against an unmovable deadline (ie. I have to go to work/church/bible study/the store/in laws’ house). Perhaps the imminent danger of being late to something get’s the juices flowing? Possibly. But this goes back to previous posts, lost somewhere in the ether, where I’ve mentioned the ease of writing a short story versus a novel. Short stories are accessible and “punchy.” (The structure of a short story is “Look here!”, then “Oh snap!” whereas a novel adds an additional piece: “So what?”) They are formulated with relative ease, and any subsequent work is less focused on the verbosity of the content but on its composition and flow. Lawd! A novel requires investment and an endurance that I somehow possess in the literary realm, but not in the social and occupational strata of my life. Anyways… this little rabbit trail is brought to you by my lack of focus and my lack of communication these past few weeks.

(…)

One thing that I’ve noticed now that I’ve been 31 for a while and have suffered a major setback in my professional career is the transition from a somewhat youthful awareness and motivation to a laid-back, adult complacency. It’s very strange. Everything now seems deliberate, as opposed to spontaneous. Life choices are weighted by the amount of chaos that would be injected into the ongoing domestic equation. It kind of sucks, but I’m hard pressed to establish an alternative life hack to change this pattern. How does one pursue a “van life” with a family? Probably not very easily, definitely not once the kid reaches the age of public schooling. (That is unless you are a huge piece of shit.) The shadow of domesticity isn’t that bad though, now that I’ve settled into it with Alyssa. There is a flow, a routine. I can expect certain things and rule out others. As 2020 rolls out, I have many ambitions that I hope to see happen. I want to print my next book, run a Kickstarter, and better establish myself as a writer. Hopefully that’s possible with that additional stability on hand? After doing taxes this year, I can say with some certainty that we are “doing okay,” but there’s always something else, isn’t there? I have a feeling that this year, somehow, will be a “shit or get off the pot” kind of year.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Living in Paradise

Hawaii is a strange place.

I was first introduced to the island state when I was about a year old. Before my parents divorced we went to the island of Kawaii. And while some people insist that memories from back then are a tad unreliable I do remember a road. It was winding through valley of emerald, and at the end was a pristine beach, the kind you see on postcards. My dad always wanted to live there, but in a suspicious way. There was a time that I wanted to live in Japan and “go native,” but then I turned 17 and stopped watching anime. It was like my dad never got noticed by senpai.
Sunset view from the front porch of my dad's house.

Still, I can’t fault him for liking the place. It’s very pristine and, at times, otherworldly. The east side of the island is demonstrably wet, with a microclimate that gets something to the tune of 300 inches of rain a year. There are waterfalls, abandoned structures retaken by the vegetation, and the remnants of a railway that was decimated by a tsunami in the 40s and 60s. When my dad convinced my grandma to purchase a house outside of Hilo, going there again in grade school was very much like moving up river to get to Kurtz and his locally sourced, native experience.

Concerning the west side, Kona reminds me of the “before” picture of a Mars colony before collapsing into dystopian upheaval. Brightly lit tourism and razor-sharp volcanic rock, cooking in the sun, abound. Basalt blacktop that you could cook eggs on. The beaches, where one can find them, are a mixture of coarse, white sand and coral growing on not-so-recent-but-geologically-new lava flow. The 3rd time I went to Hawaii I stepped on a sea urchin, looking like a total asshole in front of a local smoking some shitty weed. Incidentally, if it wasn’t the urchin spines that got me, it would have been the lava flow beneath. Everything here is sharp, rough, like iron castings with the marks still left at the edges.
Kua beach, I think.

All this considered, I say Hawaii is a strange place because I never understood why my dad wanted to live there. (He always seemed to me more like a Montana person.) Hawaii is about as large as San Diego County but with a 4th of the population and extremely isolated. Everything needs to be imported to the state and utilities are enormously expensive. Not only that, Hawaii is a welfare state, specifically the product of colonial occupation. Poor education, lacking infrastructure, and a deficit of investment in collaboration afflicts the island native population. So my dad, Mr. Red State, is up in arms of course. I never understood the mentality that conservatism intersects with business-minded pragmatism. You would think that the solution to bolstering up marginalized populations would be to invest in education and social infrastructure. But conservatism in practice seems more like social Darwinism, without teeth or the wherewithal to commit genocide and “thin the herd” so that the invisible hand of the market can act.

Hiking near Waipio valley.

Great view at the end.
I'm not good at taking pictures of myself.

This time visiting the island, I was able to see the house my father built, which after so many years of toil and hardship is complete. The last few nights have been marathons of movies, an old pastime of the Warren household. Last night I wanted to share with my dad the Netflix Series “Documentary Now,” only to have him abruptly turn it off and switch to The Matrix and Alita Battle Angel. (No, I’m not bitter at all.) For fucks’ sake, does anyone out there still have the critical thinking left to understand subtlety and nuance? Have we truly descended into the Age of Unreason?

And for all the unruly and disrespectful abuse—my dad asserts at the hand of its own natives—the islands have endured, I see an opportunity for this place to flourish and grow into a modern paradise. Fertile agricultural land, readily available geothermal power, myriad opportunities to repair infrastructure, and technological discovery (vis a vis the Mauna Loa Observatory). Shouting from the stands, angrily bellyaching about social and institutional poverty without any intension to fix it in a productive way, is the height of stupidity. So while my dad has finally realized his sought after dream, I can’t help but comprehend the irony of his life. He’s trapped in a recursive loop of disillusionment and hatred of the other and he doesn’t even realize it. My brother thinks it’s a waste of time to discuss and have a meaningful dialogue with him, and for the first time in my life I’m starting to believe that. Then again, I suppose, people hear what they want to hear. As Jesus once said,
You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”